Billy Napier’s goal Tuesday night was to convey his message and his vision for the UL-Lafayette football program.
But Napier couldn’t help but mentioning Monday’s national championship game, and the 250 Ragin' Cajuns fans at Oakbourne Country Club couldn’t help but ask questions about Alabama’s stirring 26-23 overtime win over Georgia.
Napier spoke knowledgeably on the subject, since he served on Nick Saban’s staff for five seasons, including Saban’s second national championship season in 2011.
“You see the highlights once or twice a year and think Nick’s going to lose it,” he said, “but he really does a great job of keeping those guys poised and keeping them focused on ... the execution, the adjustments, to keep playing the next play.
“But when you go into that coaches’ area in the locker room at halftime and the door shuts, for about five minutes — I’ve been in a couple of those and it’s not pretty.”
Napier and the members of his still-under-construction Cajuns staff went to local sports bar Pete’s to watch Monday’s title game, and he said he couldn’t help but pull for the Crimson Tide.
“But that’s the last time I’m going to do that,” he laughed, “for a couple of reasons.”
The Cajuns will face Alabama on Sept. 29 in Tuscaloosa, a game that was scheduled well before Napier’s hiring in December.
Tuesday’s gathering was one of the first major public appearances for Napier, who has been occupied with assembling a staff and preparing for offseason programs and spring practice.
“I was thinking about what people wanted to hear me talk about,” he said, “and I decided to pretty much have the same conversation here that I’ll have with our players in a couple of days. We’re going to be values-based and we’re going to operate by principle and not pressure.”
Napier said his team will operate on core values of integrity, togetherness, discipline, effort and toughness. He also gave some core statements, the first of which was “embrace the culture.”
“What we have here is unique,” he said. “It’s a place that I’m starting to realize that once people are here, they never want to leave. I don’t know how many people I’ve met have said, 'Yep, got here in ’81 and haven’t left. My confidence grows each day about this place and what it’s capable of.”
Napier said Tuesday he still has a cornerbacks coach and an assistant offensive line coach to hire. He announced his eighth full-time coach Tuesday with the hiring of defensive line coach and Georgia native Rory Segrest, who was with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2007-10 and at Arkansas from 2014-16.
“We really have just those two and one quality control position left to hire, so we’re close to being done,” Napier said. “We have some other things from an athletic department standpoint, a nutrition standpoint, an academic standpoint, that we’ll do as we go. We’re going to keep hiring until they tell us to stop.”
Classes began for the spring semester Wednesday, and Napier had each player check in at the Mosing Athletic Performance Center before the start of classes.
The first full team meeting with Napier is at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, and that gathering will also include a session in the indoor facility to give the new staff a look at the squad’s physical abilities.
“We’ll do a little bit of agility circuit, a few box runs, because a lot of our staff — we have no clue what we have,” Napier said. “We made profile tapes of each player returning to evaluate, but before we send these guys out on the road to recruit, we wanted to evaluate what we have and make sure if we have deficiencies that we get that taken care of with the recruiting class.”
The squad will begin its offseason program Tuesday, spending four weeks with the strength and conditioning staff, led by newly hired Mark Hocke. After Mardi Gras break, Napier said the team will have an “identity” phase of offseason that will transition into spring practice.
Spring sessions will begin March 13 with eight practices before spring break, and seven more following Easter leading up to an April 21 spring game at Cajun Field.
The Cajuns did not sign players during the new NCAA early signing period in December, but Napier told the crowd Tuesday he didn’t expect that to be an issue.
“We’re going to be just fine,” he said. “We have 18 spots, and we really only have 16 because I usually keep one or two (open) so we can continue to recruit players after that. At this point we have about 10 commitments, four or five since we’ve been here, so things are going well in that regard.”
Napier said that all 10 full-time assistant coaches will have a recruiting area within Louisiana, starting with Friday’s opening of the contact period. Napier said he and holdover staffer Michael Desormeaux will visit local high schools starting Friday, and a group of 12 players and families would be on campus this weekend for official visits.
“We’re going to put every coach we have somewhere in this state and comb this state,” he said. “Our guys are going to visit every football-playing high school in this state. There’s no question, per capita, the talent level is here and we’re going to do a very thorough evaluation of where we’re at and who the guys are that we can compete for.”